DIY - Ammo Can Saddle Bags

It's quickly becoming winter here in the Northwest. I know, it's November already, but I wouldn't call it full-blown winter yet. Anyway rainy weather and colder temperatures mean it's a good time to bust out those projects and get your shit prepped for next year. Last winter I did a tear-down and re-paint on the KLR and added some ammo-can saddle bags. The paint has needed to happen for a long time. I wasn't too into it being called the "Barbie Bike" anymore, and even though my soft bags have done me good I've always liked the rugged functionality of ammo cans. Not to mention the little nod towards the always sexy Mad Max aesthetic.

Originally I'd looked at the hard bag options from the guys over at Happy Trail. They're really classy bunch who make some great motorcycle accessories out of my home town of Boise, Idaho. But I settled on the idea of doing ammo cans instead for practical reasons (read: Way more badass).  After a little shopping around at the military surplus store I decided a 40mm can would be just about perfect. Outside dimensions are 17.5" long, 6" wide, and 10" tall. It might be a bit small for some, but I hate carrying too much crap with me, and I've seen some wicked scrapes on the underside of larger aluminum cases. The last thing I want to do is snag a can on a high speed corner. Plus I've already squeezed through some tight spaces that would've screwed me if I had anything wider. So for $40 plus the cost of admission to a Gun Show I had two fine 40mm Ammo Cans.

I had the OSR system from Happy Trail (above photo) and liked the interface with the bike, but being a "soft luggage only" system I needed to set up something else. I figured I could purchase a hard-bag rack and modify the ammo cans accordingly... Buuuuuut I'm cheap. And I like doing things the hard way. So instead of buying anything I set out to modify the OSR system to accommodate my new needs.

First was setting up a clean way to mount the bags. Using 1" square tubing I fabricated two rectangles to fit just inside the profile of the boxes. Three holes were then drilled in each into which I welded three nuts for the mounting bolts.

Next I laid the rectangles over the ammo cans to mark where I'd need to drill holes for the mounting bolts, and check some spots where the sides of the cans would need to be further modified so they fit flush. There were two points on the can I needed to carefully trim with a cutoff wheel, and unfortunately I'd already painted the cans so the old army green shows through, but that thankfully faces the bike so you never see it.

Drilling out the holes in the sides of the cans was plenty easy, but I might recommend sticking a piece of wood inside the can to help keep the sides from flexing too far inwards under the pressure of the drill. You don't want the drill bit walking on you, or prematurely denting the cans (save that for the tight trails in the woods).

Getting the cans aligned correctly on the KLR would never have happened without the help of my friend Curtis. We applied a liberal serving of Redneck Tech to the next step (sorry there are not photos of this... if only). I do not think any of it was a terribly good idea, but it worked. Quite well in fact. I bolted the cans to the rectangles, and placed a level on the top of the can while Curtis held it in place against the bike. I checked overall alignment, and marked the spots on the OSR rack that I'd need to cut away so I could weld in the mounting rectangles.  This was repeated on both sides. I pulled the racks off the bike and carefully cut away the sections I'd marked. Next I re-mounted the racks and again used Curtis' help. One at a time he held the cans in place while I made several small tack welds to secure the mounting rectangles (i made sure to clean off all powdercoating near where any welding would take place to ensure a clean weld). I figure if they can take a welder to the frame on a BMW in "The Long Way Round" that a KLR can handle the heat. I protected the panels and seat on the bike by placing some weld blanket in between them and the racks I was welding to. No sense melting a nice purple seat with a shower of weld cherries.

With the mounting rectangles tacked in place I took the bags off and took measurements for a cross brace. The main idea here was to have something discreet and minimalist. I've never liked the looks of a huge wrap-around brace. So I cut the license plate mount off the fender and ran the brace through there instead. More 1" square tubing was used, with the addition of a cut and a sleeve (a smaller piece of square tube welded inside) on one side so the brace could come apart for bag removal, and another nut welded in place secure it while it's on the bike. The license plate was ultimately bolted directly to the brace so the license plate light still works fine too.

It was at this point I found it was necessary to modify the turn signals so I could still remove the tops from the cans while they were mounted and keep with the slim profile I was aiming for. I certainly didn't want to mount the cans further out from the bike to accommodate the already ugly (and big and floppy) turn signals. I didn't have the money to just buy something smaller either. So I pulled the signals off the bike and was able to remove their "mounting stalks" by undoing a bolt on the inside of the bulb housing (behind the orange lens). From there I found it was quite easy to just direct mount the signals to the bike (see photo below).  

Side note: The signals on the back of the KLR are already shorter than the ones on the front so in retrospect I now wish i had just moved the back signals to the front of the bike and then shortened the front signals to accommodate the bags in the back. That way I wouldn't have been left with the big floppy signals on the front of the bike...

I pulled the racks off the bike to finish all of the welds and throw a fresh coat of paint on the raw steel. Some plated eyelets were purchased from the hardware store so I could have tie down points on top of the bags. A little window sealant on the inside helps keep water from getting inside the cans. Rubber fender washers work great as gaskets to seal up the mounting holes on the side of the cans. I also wrapped a short length of bicycle innertube around the rectangles (and secured it with electrical tape) to eliminate any sort of vibrations from the can on the steel rectangle (look two photos above).

The end result has been great. I finally have waterproof luggage on my bike that's durable and stylish. All for roughly $60 in parts and materials and a few hours of labor.


  1. Hi,
    Just seen your post here and am impressed.
    Similarities here! I am painting my Serow XT250 desert tan soon, using Land Rover paint as a I have a few old Landies.
    I have also considered Happy Trails as a few of my mates haves some stuff, but expensive to bring over here to the UK.
    Considering soft/hard, I'd like to utilise both depending on the trip.
    I am using a Hazard 4 Kato (in desert tan, of course) as a tank bag. Great for carrying my camera/papers etc.
    My friend Lois has done the Americas on a Serow 225
    I'm looking at ammo cans but maybe they are a tad heavy as I'm trying to keep weight down. I understand they weigh about 12lbs each? Mind you, pretty bomb-proof at that.
    Anyway, great job on the luggage. It's given me plenty of ideas.
    Here's my stock bike:
    Steve (Lincolnshire, UK)

    1. Having ridden with soft bags and dealing with leakage I prefer something that seals tight. My ammo cans have taken some abuse and remain solid and sealed. Weight of course depends on what size cans you use (I think mine are 4 lbs each?), but I don't worry about it too much as they're there literally for the purpose of adding more weight to my bike (talking about gear and whatnot). Good luck with your build, and enjoy the desert tan!


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